For a record breaking Queen with her own place in the history books, it takes something special to make a year stand out. However, the challenges of 2020 and the approach taken to them by Elizabeth II mark the past twelve months out as some of the most significant in her long reign. An historic speech watched by millions around the world has become a landmark in a life already filled with milestone moments. While 2020 has brought difficulties, Elizabeth II has emerged from all of them as a symbol of continuity.
The Queen began the year in an unwelcome situation. She found herself at the heart of a family crisis as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex surprised many, including her, with their sudden announcement that they intended to step back as senior members of the Royal Family and pursue financial independence. As speculation around the move intensified, it was Elizabeth II who dampened down the fires of gossip that had sparked into life around her family. Her statement, following the so called Sandringham Summit, brought a sense of reality to a situation that had almost run away with itself as media, both mainstream and social, fell into a fury of speculation.Embed from Getty Images
Away from the family machinations, the Queen’s year began as normal. Once Sandringham had been cleared of summits, she passed her usual early months of the year there with a visit to RAF Marham and a trip following in the footsteps of her father as she opened the new Wolferton Pumping Station. She was at Sandringham on February 6th when she marked the anniversary of the death of King George VI who passed away there in 1952. Having spent that day, the anniversary of her own accession, privately, Her Majesty returned to London where a round of engagements awaited her.
Her regular audiences with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, were soon under way as were her meetings with new ambassadors to the UK. The Queen’s first major engagement of 2020 in the capital came with a visit a hospital followed, soon afterwards, with an unannounced trip to MI5 headquarters. Just a few days later, signs of the imminent changes awaiting everyone came as Her Majesty wore gloves to an investiture for the first time in a move aimed at stopping the potential spread of coronavirus. Behind palace walls, a daily string of meetings and audiences continued.Embed from Getty Images
On March 9th 2020, the Queen led the Royal Family at the annual Commonwealth Day Service, held at Westminster Abbey. Attention fell heavily on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they made their last appearance as senior royals but the Queen showed no sign of even noticing the changes going on around her. Two days later, she held a Council and an audience with Boris Johnson at Buckingham Palace. It would prove to be a turning point in the year.
Soon afterwards, Her Majesty left for Windsor Castle, earlier than planned, as it became clear the UK was heading to lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. On March 25th, two days after he placed the country in lockdown, the Prime Minister held a phone audience with the Queen. In another sign that she was ready for the challenges of the months to come, the Queen was photographed as she tackled this new way of tackling business as usual. However, the challenges were about to increase. Boris Johnson was diagnosed with coronavirus and as the pandemic took hold, it was confirmed that the Queen would make an extraordinary broadcast.Embed from Getty Images
Her speech, on April 5th 2020, offered encouragement and hope. In a line that was repeated immediately around the world, Her Majesty looked to the future as she said ”We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.“
The reassurance offered by her words was seen soon afterwards in a poll which found over eighty per cent of those who hard the address felt comforted by it.Within hours of the speech, the UK found out that its Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had been taken to hospital as his condition deteriorated. The Queen sent messages of support to his family and her words, delivered that April evening, took on more resonance.Embed from Getty Images
Lockdown meant that all royal matters now had to be carried out virtually. Ancient traditions were changed overnight with Maundy Money distributed by post and salutes for the Queen’s birthday cancelled. April and May saw the Queen hold councils by videolink and carry out meetings, including with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, by telephone. She also issued a moving message to the people of Nova Scotia following a mass shooting. In fact, words of comfort became the Queen’s guiding principle in those months of lockdown. On May 8th she gave another historic speech, marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day. She shared the screen with her father, George VI, before offering more encouragement with a soon oft repeated phrase. ”Never give up, never despair” she said in an address watched by millions.
There was much excitement in June when the Queen carried out her first publicised video engagement, chatting with carers to thank them for their efforts during the pandemic. The Quadrangle at Windsor Castle provided the setting for a scaled back and socially distanced Trooping the Colour to mark Her Majesty’s Official Birthday. There were more celebrations for Elizabeth II when one of her horses won at Ascot for the first time in four years although the Monarch wasn’t present to see the victory owing to the pandemic.Embed from Getty Images
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh left the ancient walls of Windsor Castle for the first time in four months when they travelled to the nearby Royal Chapel of All Saints on July 17th 2020 for the marriage of their granddaughter, Princess Beatrice. Immediately after the wedding, the Queen was back on duty, knighting Captain Sir Tom Moore in a special ceremony at Windsor. At the end of July, the Monarch oversaw another first, unveiling a new portrait of herself via videolink before she and the Duke of Edinburgh headed to a Balmoral ‘bubble’ for their annual summer break.
As The Queen prepared to leave Scotland for Sandringham in September 2020, news came from Barbados that the island planned to remove Elizabeth II as its Head of State by the autumn of 2021 and become a republic. By early October, the Queen was back at Windsor Castle where she took part in a joint video call with the Countess of Wessex to mark World Sight Day. Accompanied by the Duke of Cambridge, Her Majesty visited the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Porton Down where she officially opened the new Energetics Analysis Centre. The Queen also watched as Prince William presented the Firmin Sword of Peace. However, both royals received some criticism for not wearing masks during the visit.Embed from Getty Images
November, as always, was about remembrance. As England prepared to enter its second lockdown, the Queen made one final public visit before restrictions were put in place, travelling to Westminster Abbey to place a replica of her wedding bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, one hundred years after the soldier was laid to rest ‘among the kings’. Her Majesty was present at a socially distanced ceremony at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday where she watched the Prince of Wales lay her wreath on behalf of the nation.
As the year entered its final phase, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary with a new portrait showing them enjoying a card made for them by Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Plans for celebrations to mark her Platinum Jubilee in 2022 were also revealed. Now a dab hand at video calls, the Queen received new ambassadors that way for the first time in December.Embed from Getty Images
Although there would be no big family gathering at Sandringham, given pandemic restrictions, the Queen did gather some of her relatives around her for a special reception at Windsor Castle to celebrate key workers as Christmas approached. With the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Princess Royal at her (socially distanced) side, Her Majesty led the thanks for those who have done so much for others during this most challenging of years.
Those royals played key roles in the Queen’s Christmas Day speech in which they were seen at engagements throughout the past year as the Queen spoke of her pride in the way people had responded to the pandemic and of her hope for the future.
For the future is very much on the mind of Elizabeth II. That brief, chilly gathering at Windsor in the dark days of December ended the year with a snapshot of what is to come. After a tumultuous twelve months which has seen the shape and the future of the House of Windsor alter and a new way of working present itself, the Queen ended with a message of business as usual.